Monday, December 17, 2007

I'm Famous!

Okay, not really, but it's given me a good reason to get my arse out of lazy-mode and post an update.

A while back, a guy randomly sent me a message through Flickr regarding one of my photos from Song Shan. I just got an email saying he's used it for his company's website, Home and Abroad, specific to Song Shan. Kinda neat. It isn't the Washington Post or The Times, but hey.

Things have been busy. Work at the Senate's been pretty hectic; few days have been shorter than 9 hours. Last week, Weds was 12 hours, after which I slept for 4 hours and worked another 12. Despite the schedule, the work itself has been good, and I think I'm more or less in the groove. There are still instances that pop up that I'm not sure how to deal with (such as when the Senate went to Committee of the Whole), but I'm 95% there.

I just had a Bell guy in to fix two jacks. Turns out, someone had torn out the entire phone line from the computer room through to the living room and into the kitchen where the "main" is. So the guy had to run 80'+ of cable and install two new jacks. Landlord will be footing the bill or it's small-claims court for him. The good news is that I finally have my phone in the living room and not on the stovetop, and the DSL modem is in my computer instead of on the kitchen table.

Did you hear the Merriam-Webster has added "w00t" to their dictionary? Jesus H... And people saying gaming isn't in the mainstream. Next year they'll add "h4x0r", "wtfbbq" and "roflcopter" to that, too. We're in a linguistic downward spiral, comrades.

I'm looking forward to Christmas, I guess. Just can't seem to get myself in the spirit, though. I still need to grab stuff for Angie and my mom, but otherwise things are taken care of. Trying to wrack my brain for something wicked-awesome for Angie, but I think I outdid myself when I got her a Slanket for our anniversary. It's going to be hard to top that unless I could find her a blanket comprised of synchronized-cuddling kittens.

Going for a pint this Friday with a bunch of folks, which will be fun. On Saturday, Angie and I are going for supper and drinks with Angela, Ben, Jimmy and Heather. Again, looking forward to that. Sunday is our 1.5-year anniversary, so that belongs to us. We're then heading on Monday to Brockville to stay with my parents over xmas, then will head to her mom's for more of the holiday break.

Can't think of much else, really. I know quite a bit has happened recently, but since I don't update often enough on here it's hard to remember what's transpired in between.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Giving In to the Inner Geek, & Other Updates

For some reason, a few weeks ago I found myself caught up in the idea of finding a Star Wars table-top game in Ottawa. However, glancing through the core guide and various sourcebooks to get a refresher on some of the rules, I came away disenchanted. The Star Wars license was officially given by LucasArts to Wizards of the Coast, makers of Dungeons & Dragons and the origin of "d20" gaming, back around 2001. Lately, though, I've become extremely dissatisfied with the whole d20 system (Star Wars, D&D), for a number of reasons. The main issues I have are ones of passivity, pigeon-holing that can't be avoided with a class-based system, the progression feels chuggy and uninspired, and freedom of choice is severely limited. In other words, it feels more like a video game and less like a game of imagination.

So, still in a Star Wars mood, I attempted something different. A few weeks ago, I started to adapt the Shadowrun 4th Edition rules for the Star Wars setting. (Weird. In attempting to get a link for Shadowrun in order to hyperlink it here, I discovered that the FanPro site is all in German, and poorly organized to boot... Anyhoo... check wikipedia if you care.)

When I originally began, I thought it would take too much tweaking to be worthwhile. However, now being well underway and nearly finished, it was a lot easier than I thought. Or rather, it's required a great deal less altering than I had initially thought.

What I'm doing is basically this: Imagine you really like the boardgame RISK, but you think that perhaps Monopoly's rules would be better for it. That's kind of what I'm doing; the point of my "transliteration" isn't what the games focus on, but the actual rules mechanics.

So now, two or three weeks after starting, I've got 32 pages of adjusted rules, additional rules for concepts not in Shadowrun (like the Force), etc. etc. You may be thinking "I thought you said it wasn't taking much to alter the rules to suit?!". However, when you consider that the Shadowrun rulebook is 352 pages, and the Star Wars core rulebook is 380 pages... 30-ish pages (which is not the same as 30 pages in an actual double-columned rulebook) ain't bad!

Now I just need to find someone who'd be willing to use the rules and run a game for me. There's a very large gaming community in Ottawa. All I need to do is find the right person, which shouldn't be too tough once I hang a flyer at Fandom II on Laurier St.

In other, non-geek-related news... Work kicks ass. I'm really enjoying being a scopist. It's the perfect job for my personality type (Perfectionist): every day, the work is the same but different. There are rigid parameters and guidelines and forms that must be adhered to make countless others' lives (including mine) easier, but within those bounds the work is always different. Some days I may work on the Senate itself, but on top of that I may be handling the Fisheries and Oceans Committee, or maybe the Banking Committee, or Aboriginal Rights Committee, or Defense Committee. It changes up all the time depending on what's happening on a particular day. However, the fundamentals of my job remain unchanged regardless of what I'm editing and cleaning up. It's great!

I treated Aaron to supper at The Keg in the Market on Friday, to repay him for letting me bunk at his place for so damn long. On my way home, I picked up at Sears the blinds I'd ordered. Around 10pm that night, James came into town with a co-worker for a conference and stayed over at my place, making them my first official overnight guests. Adrienne came over for a beer and to see the new place on Thursday evening, and we hung out talking until 1am. On Tuesday, Roger, Kelly and I are having drinks at Patty Boland's. YAY!! Really looking forward to that.

My apartment is almost there. I just need to rearrange the living room and, in the kitchen, I need to put together the island I bought at IKEA. Once my parents come into town with all my stuff from China, I can get some actual decor happening. All that remains is to get two small bookshelves from IKEA to handle book overflow and I think I'm good.

Friday, November 09, 2007

All Moved In... (mostly)

I'm all moved into my new place downtown now. By that I mean that all but three boxes are unpacked and sorted, and most of my furniture is assembled and set where it'll be staying. When my parents and I moved my stuff up, we forgot all my China paraphenalia. So the decor is a bit barren... no scrolls, paintings, masks or anything. I'm really looking forward to putting up my shu fa scrolls and paintings (hua hua I think?). Dunno where I'm going to put Xiang laoshi's shu fa scrolls, though... they're pretty huge. Need a good 7 or 8 feet of vertical wall.

It's great to have Pele back and be reunited with all my books. I did a count and I have ~760... I need two more small "Billy" IKEA bookshelves to hold the little overflow that exists. Oh, I'm tossing a few novels, so if anyone wants "Eragon" and some David Eddings novels, let me know.

I really love this new place. There's tonnes of space for me and Pele, and the smaller of the three rooms makes a great computer room. I ordered blinds the other day from Sears, and two sets of those should be arriving next week and then another two sets a few more a few weeks after that. There are still some issues with the apartment that need to be resolved, but overall, things are pretty much settled here. The only annoying thing is not having on-site laundry, though that may be added in the next few months.

Anyhoo... I've had this week off due to the Senate taking a week for Remembrance Day/Week. The good news is that it looks like this coming Monday will see the approval of the committee selections report, which means we'll go into full hours mode shortly.

That's it for now!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cpt Dawe

I just found out this afternoon that a guy who was in my platoon during Infantry training Phase II at CFB Gagetown died on July 7th of this year. It just about knocked me over. I was watching the live text feed from the Senate floor yesterday when it was mentioned in opening remarks and Senators' Statements, but the reporter had heard "Dodd". I only saw it today when I read through the finished hardcopy publication. Still thinking it could have been someone else, another Dawe perhaps, I googled him... I wasn't mistaken. It was him. In that link to the Hansard, Senator Segal spoke very well of him.

Now, I wasn't best friends with Dawe, but I certainly remember him well and we got along during our brief stint. There weren't many people I met in training that I looked at and thought "I'd follow you, trust you, in a theatre of war" but Dawe was definitely one of them. Him, Miksa, Luft.

I remember Dawe actually grinning after Warrant Ashford PT-raped 26 minutes of our lives away during range week for having wasted 26 minutes of Cpt Sharlack's time two weeks prior during a night navigation pre-inspection. Hell, during firing practice, he challenged the warrant to a pull-up competition. As sections were firing C-7 rounds a few feet away, they were up in the rafters, doing chin-ups. Dawe beat Ashford in two-handed pull-ups, but Ashford kicked Dawe's ass in one-handed ones. Throughout all the exercises, barracks time, down-time (ha!), etc., Dawe never had the "RMC airs" - that attitude of superiority over us reservus goofs.

I'm going to see if next week while I unpack I can find some pictures of him from our days in Gagetown. I don't think I have any, as most of the ones I took were from pre-RESO, the first three weeks of training before RMC students showed up for Phase II. Though I seem to recall a photo of us all eating freakin' IMPs in the woods during night nav/camo week. Think Mundi and Dawe are in that one.

A good article about Dawe can be found here. The picture of him with his son is just... hard to look at, I guess.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Quick update

Halloween weekend was good! Had a blast at both parties - Jimmy's and Suzi's. Not doing anything for tomorrow evening except what I'd normally do which consists of playing Final Fantasy III or IV on my SNES emulator or writing or watching a movie.

Work so far is great! Nice people, but someone needs to kick a certain senator I shall not name. She keeps stalling the committees selection which means a 4-hour day instead of a 10-hour day. Cuttin' into my bottom line... And next week is a week off because it's Remembrance WEEK. When did Remembrance Day turn into a Week? Or maybe that's just a fed gov't thing. Most times I'd be jumpin', but money's an issue at the moment and having a week off is not a positive. I just hope that committees are sorted out for the week of the 12th, if not tomorrow. (Please don't adjourn the debate again... please!)

And... moving this Friday! Got a great place downtown. I'm so looking forward to having my own place with my own furniture and my own space. Also, people can visit and stay over whenever because I'll have enough room. I'll send an email out soon to let people know what the new info is.

That's it for now. More after I get settled into my new abode.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gaming and DAoC People Weekend

Had a pretty good weekend, but it felt hectic and long due to the travel.

I managed to drag my sleepy arse out of Aaron's place on Saturday morning at 6:20am, and made it to the train station five minutes before the train was set to leave at 7:00. The ride itself was relatively banal, though there was an overindulged and coddled eight-month-old across the way from me who wouldn't stop crying out and making a nuisance of itself. Did a lot of reading, though, and almost finished Hermetech. Also listened to a 59-minute .mp3 interview of Neil Gaiman by Rotten Tomatoes. That was interesting, and it was a 'comfy' recording with subtle restaurant background noises. It felt like I was eavesdropping, though... audio voyeurism. Neil Gaiman seems to know everyone.

After receiving directions from two people on my way to Adrian and Fiona's, I arrived at their place just in time for some french toast. Mmmmm... french toast... Afterwards, around 8:30 or so, we all wandered to a sushi restaurant and ate and took it easy. I then hurried via subway to Spadina to catch up with a guy I'd never met. We used to both play DAoC (Dark Age of Camelot), though on opposing sides. So we knew of each other, but had never really spoken. I had written in a DAoC forum that I was going to be in Toronto for the weekend and by happenstance, he happened to have read it and was living in Toronto, so we worked it out from there. We were both exceptionally late... We were supposed to meet originally at 8:30, but I arrived at 9:45 or so, and he had gotten there at 9:15. However, he had a lady-friend with him, and another gamer: Hawkin. (that's a picture of them, top left... girl, Wulf, Hawkin) So that was fun. None of stayed too long.

On Sunday, I had a bit of an issue since my train was at 9:30am, but I left Angela's place at 8:30 or so, hoping to catch the subway down to Union. No go. What I didn't know was that the subway doesn't start running on Sundays until 9am. So... I found the Dupont subway station doors locked... and the Spadina station doors locked. At this point, I thought perhaps there'd been an accident or something on the lines and they were closing it off. Had I waited 10 more minutes, I would have been fine. But not knowing what was up and not wanting to miss my train, I took a taxi. It wasn't far, so it didn't cost me too too much.

The ride back was fine. I finished Hermetech, and got back into where I'd left off with Something Wicked This Way Comes. I tried to sleep a ways, but everytime I managed to doze off, the next stop was announced on the PA so that didn't work out too well.

Got in around 2:15pm, and met up with Pat (another DAoC player, and good buddy of mine - photo right) at the Royal Oak. The skany one (the Sk'Oak), not the more upscale new one (the N'Oak). We had a few beers, checked out some podcast videos for W.A.R. (Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, made by Mythic, the same folks who did DAoC) and had a bite to eat.

I took a bus back to my place, dropped off my stuff, and took off again, this time to Angie's as Aaron had people over. Had a fun time over at her place, and hung out with her and a few of her friends and had mulled wine. At one point, Ross was using Google Maps to track down his place, using the satellite view option. That gave me an idea, so I used it to show some people Guilin, Suzhou, Beijing and I found Tangshan. I showed Angie Xin Hua Dao (the main street) so she could see where the earthquake memorial is, where EF was, and where I lived. I was able to get in pretty close, too! It brought back a lot of memories. It was nice to see it, but it also felt really odd to be looking down on places I had come to know so well.

That's about it. I'm going to see an apartment today, and hopefully claim it for my own. I really need to get out of Aaron's place. He has been more than accomodating, but he needs his own place back after having both myself and August here all summer, and I'm still here. It has to be frustrating and irritating for him to not be in his usual dynamic.

Halloween parties are coming up, so there ought to be lots of pictures and another blog entry after this coming weekend. Hope everyone is well!

Friday, October 19, 2007


Looks like my first day of work is next Friday. It was initially to be today, but committees have resumed so there's not too much work; not enough to go around between nine English scopists, anyway.

I've been apartment hunting over the past few days, and things on that front are looking hopeful. I'm seeing a place on Frank St early this evening, and on Monday I'll check out a place on Kent. I'm really hopeful that one of those is nice and I can nab it. I'm so looking forward to having my own place again. (I think I've said that already a number of times over previous blog entries, but there you have it.)

Yesterday, I went out to the west end to have lunch with Andy. Should have taken my camera so I could post his mug up here so others have a face to put to one of my most frequent commenter's name. Drat. After lunch at the Lone Star, we headed back to Entrust so I could visit with a few people.

My god... it was so eerie. It felt like I was approaching some haunted place, or the home of an estranged and subtly malicious family member. It was just so odd walking back in there. I was happy to see Kelso again, and we ended up chatting for a good 20 minutes, at which point I had to head out to meet up with Laura. It was my first time in the Third Brigade building, and it's quite a nice set-up in there. It was good to see Laura, as I hadn't seen her in well over a year. We chatted about old Entrust folks, she told me about Third Brigade and I gave her my advice on media monitoring and tracking applications. It was a lot of fun to see everyone out there!

On Wednesday night, I took Jamie out for belated birthday beers. We went to MacLaren's for beer and pool. It was great to spend some time with him. I don't think Jamie and I have ever gone out just he and I before. We had fun, and I think we each won as many games of pool as we lost. Swung by Angie's afterwards to surprise her, and we walked home.

It's been a great week and is looking like a fantastic weekend. I'm heading to Toronto this weekend for gaming and... meeting up with a fellow DAoC player! I never played with him, though I played against him and we were aware of each other. He and I are still frequent posters on a DAoC forum and I happened to mention I'd be in town, so we're hooking up Saturday night at a pool place on Bloor. I'm looking forward to that. Funny enough, on Sunday I'll be meeting up with my friend Pat, who I first met via DAoC, also. Ah, geekdom... bringing people together since 1974.

Hope everyone has a good weekend!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Stuffing Update

Since I cut my finger open, it's been a pretty busy four weeks, and for the most part those weeks have been great.

Big news first, I suppose. I have a job. I'm back with the Senate, and while I'm still in the same department, I'm with a new supervisor and in a different position. I'll be a scopist, which is basically an editor/proof-reader and fact-checker. It pays well, is only four days a week, 9 months a year. So that's sorted. Finally! To say I'm relieved would be an understatement. I'm looking forward to an end to this unwanted professional hiatus.

James' housewarming out near Ste-Sauver was a blast. While I've seen James and Katrien quite a few times since I've been back (and since they've been in Canada) I hadn't seen Dave or Jamie in years. It was fantastic to spend some time with them and catch up on things. They're both looking and doing well! (photo above left) Given the weather was fantastic, we hung out outside and Katrien built a nice fire. Beer, fire and friends... good times.

I've also been doing some gaming in Toronto. Well, we've started a game anyway. It's a once-a-month thing, and nice to re-unite the old Kingston gaming group, with a photograph of PG looking on. It's quite nice to take a break from Ottawa, gaming rocks and socializing with old and good friends is the icing on the cake. Also managed to sneak in two breakfasts (Saturday and Sunday) with Christina and Laura, Angela's sisters.

Anyhoo, with the job coming up and money actually starting to come in, I'll be looking for apartments soon. I can't wait to get into my own place again and truly begin to feel settled and back into things. Pele will soon be living with me again, and that's as it should be, I suppose, given how she and my dad get along...

Last weekend, I also hooked up with Pat from DAoC - had breakfast at the Gloucester Oak - and Angie and I went for drinks with Adam, and ran into Daniel! Hadn't seen him in years.

Angie and I headed back to her mom's for Thanksgiving in VKH. Lorne and Dee made extravagant quantities of food, and everyone ate themselves stupid on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, Angie and I went for breakfast at Carole's with Angela and Ben. Carole's was a frequent haunt of Angela's and mine back in high-school. Last night, between bouts of Guitar Hero II and Colessium (cool boardgame that Chris brought), we lounged and chatted and just took it easy, dining on hamburgers, cole-slaw and other goodies. Definitely a nice Thanksgiving and another weekend away. Just got back this morning (Monday), courtesy of Jenny and Chris.

That's the news for now. Looking forward to an upcoming Sudbury visit, starting work, Halloween parties, and finding and moving into my own place.

As per usual, pictures of various stuffs up on Flickr.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Dishes Suck

Damn glasses. So I came home from Angie's around noon or so, and by 1pm I was on my way to the Civic Hospital emergency room. The culprit? Washing a freaking glass.

Nothing too serious. I was washing a glass while doing the dishes (oddly, it was the last thing to clean) and it broke while my right hand was in it. My first reaction was, in no uncertain terms, "holymothafuckinshit!" followed by more intermittent swearing as my brain tried to process exactly what had happened while blood poured down my hand.

I ended up cutting deeply into my pinky finger, and three hours later when it was looked at by a doctor, found out I'd cut some minor artery or some such. It wouldn't stop bleeding. I soaked through a bathing towel Aaron gave me when we left, the gauze the triage nurse gave me while I waited another two hours, and the doctor went through about eight packages of gauze while freezing me and sewing me shut. (6 stitches... yay...) It only stopped when she placed a stitch through the little vein/artery and sewed it down. My arm was resting in an actual pool of blood. Lovely imagery, eh?

I found it all fascinating, actually. I watch Nip/Tuck religiously with Aaron, and have always been amazed by their re-creations of surgeries and such. Some of them very... disturbing. Very accurate, it turns out. I watched the freezing, and then the stitching. I had to help a bit at one point because blood just kept flowing over the areas she was trying to work on. I asked questions the whole time because I was really curious about it all. It was all very surreal. I couldn't feel anything, and because my hand was completely obscured by surgical towels or whatever, it looked like a disembodied hunk of flesh. Like it had no association with me personally.

On the plus side, I'm now up to date on my tetanus shot. On the down side, I wasted five hours of my day and can no longer boast that I've never broken a bone nor had stitches. My brother used to be the one who was always getting sewn up or having bones set. So much for my 28-year streak.

Wish I had a picture. I think the doctor had a camera phone. Should have asked her to take one before and one after. The one before would have been gruesome. It looked a bit like I had split my pinky in two. Not quite that bad, but the cut went a fair ways in. (edit: 24 hours later, I re-dressed my cut and decided to snap some pictures. Ugly...)

Nothing much else to report. Still no luck on the job front, and that's pissing me off. Well, some days I'll optimistic, other days pissed, and other days just down about it. Angie's moved into her place, and it's great to finally be in the same city.

That's about all I can think of for the moment.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

When CSIS Comes A-Callin'

Had a bit of a surprise this morning. Woke up, fiddled around for a bit, made coffee. Aaron comes out of his room moaning about a hangover and hands me a piece of mail. I open it up and it's half a paragraph from CSIS recruitment.

It wasn't completely out of the blue. I'd sent in a generic cover letter and my resume to their recruitment dept. However, I didn't really expect to get anything back. Now, it may be that they contact the majority of people who apply, once they determine that the cover letter and resume contain promising elements. I dunno. All I know is that I opened the letter... and three hours later received a call on my cell.

"Hi, this is so-and-so from CSIS. Is this a cell phone number?"

"Yes it is."

"When are you available for a short interview over a land-line?"

And so it began. I arrived at my parents' place around 3pm, and the call happened at 3:30pm. The woman was really nice, and it wasn't so much an interview as a preliminary screening and information transfer. I asked a few questions, and she was quite... thorough in terms of follow-up questions. "Military? What clearance did you have? What year was that again? Why did you seek honourable discharge? What made you decide to enlist?" It was quite a fun conversation, and very interesting. Highly informative.

What may have turned into a career with them was cut short (knowingly, on my part) when I said that, yes, I was "hesitant" when it came to the issue of "mobility". I just spent 10 months away from Angie, and I'm not about to jump into a job that involves a great deal of... well, mobility. The mandatory training programs (which I'm not sure I can talk about) seemed pretty intense and they themselves involved being in various places.

It's kind of funny. When I had sent my resume and cover letter in, I had assumed that positions would be for support type roles. You know, non-007 type stuff. Analysis, research, etc. The recruitment, however, was for something else entirely. It's all good, though: the recruitment person forwarded my information and resume to other departments internally that are support-type jobs, and based out of Ottawa.

Anyhoo... it was an interesting day! I doubt I'll have any calls quite like it in this job-search process.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Of Weddings, Visits & Bikes

A few weeks to catch up on, I suppose. Fell out of the ol' blogging mood for a bit, but here we go.

Angela and Ben's wedding was fantastic. They had it out at Strathmere on the 8th, and luckily the weather cooperated nicely. Slightly overcast, but that actually works better for photographs (or so I'm told by people who know what they're doing). The venue was great, the ceremony was personal and without ornament, and the reception was tonnes of fun. In my opinion, they had just the right amount of people.

Angie and I got all dolled up in our Chinese clothes, the super secret ones I'd gotten with Lili's help in Beijing my last week in China. We received some nice comments about them, and Angie looked amazing in her dress. My shirt was somewhat nonconducive to eating, what with the sleeves and all, but I managed just fine. Many subtle flicks of the wrist were necessary. The bar wasn't expensive, either: a glass of wine was $6, and I think I only bought two glasses. The rest was provided as supper accompaniment. I even danced. (Scary, I know.)

That's been the major event up until this weekend, really. Otherwise, I've simply been sending out resumes, having a meeting here and there (agencies, not job interviews unfortunately), and being hopeful, job-wise. It's frustrating at times, but c'est la vie. I hooked up with Kevin B. last Monday around midnight, and we hung out til fairly early in the morning, chatting.

Oh, I house-sat for Jamie and Suzi, and it was good to get out of Aaron's for a bit to give him and August some of their own space. The animals were good, for the most part, and I got some writing done, watched plenty of movies, and played WoW. Aaron came over one evening for bbq, beer and to watch Tremors, a movie neither of us had seen since it came out way back when. Good times.

While I was there, I finished reading Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix, which I wasn't a huge fan of. It was good, but not great. That tends to show in the movie, as it was a bit bland. The ending was good, and it was awesome that Helena Bonham Carter played Bellatrix Lestrange. Good casting on that. (I still despise Richard Harris' replacement, though.)

I've also finished The Silver Spike, She Is the Darkness and I'm well into Bleak Seasons (all Black Company books). It's quite a fun read. Nothing too heavy, and it moves along quite nicely with a great bunch of motley characters.

I've been down in Vankleek Hill since Weds afternoon, visiting Angie. Last night we went to see John and Linda at their place, fulfilling the promise made in Zhuhai. John bbq'd steaks and sausages and potatoes, and they both kept the flow of beer unhampered. Angie got a chance to chat with Linda while I mostly wrangled with John. I think Angie said it best when she said "even though I agree with a lot of John's opinions, it's still hard to agree with him". So true, and makes for some nice, heated discussions. It was very relaxing.

Something cool: my dad bought a Triumph, centennial edition. He had a '63 Triumph when he was a youngin', and for ages he's talked about getting one. Well, today he's back from Nashville where he went to pick it up (go eBay). I can't wait to see it, and it looks like I'll be able to on Weds or Thursday as I'm aiming to go down for a visit while my Nan's visiting. It's relatively rare for my dad to get excited about something, so it was fun to hear him on the phone.

He called first and just said, "Did you check your email? No? Go check it and call me back". He'd sent me an email with the picture of the bike and the invitation "Want to go to Nashville?". Any other time I'd have been all for a roadtrip, but girlfriends before father's dreams, I suppose.

I guess that's about it for now. I'll try to get back to my more frequent posting routine.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


I got an email from one of my 16-year-old students today. He and I have been emailing back and forth since I left Tangshan and started traveling in late March. Now he's no fool, and is cautious about what he reads and believes from Chinese media. (wise boy) However, the isolation of reality with the Chinese frightens me. I suppose what frightens me most is witnessing intelligent, independent-thought-driven people in China left in the dark. For us ("us" in this case being Canadians, I think), if we choose not to believe a thing it's because there is evidence to the contrary and we can point to it. We can see both sides of the coin. Not so for most Chinese people. Their "coin" has been riveted to steel and involves a government-run laser-light show that promotes the side showing.

Because of this, it amazes me when Johnson (my student) comes to me either telling me what he thinks, or asking questions. He has no basis, information-wise, to divide his opinion from the norm. Imagine a book that tells two sides of a debate, except each page reserved for the side that the Chinese government doesn't find convenient is blacked out completely. That's essentially how it goes. It's crazy to think that some of my students are looking at the black pages and going "I'd rather side with uncertainty than what's being said". They're tossing their away a government-generated "truth" in favour of a void.

This post was prompted from an email I received this morning, which contained: "Today I found a terrible fact: the Austrilians think that Taiwan is a country!! China has announced for lots of times that Taiwan is a part of China! Do you Canadians have that idea, too?" A bit of background: that teenage class was taken on by Jeff, an older Australian man, when I left. So clearly something is being discussed in class that has prompted Johnson to take whatever they were discussing as Australian gospel. (That's another thing... if I say "I think food in China is too spicy", that response would be tantamount to saying "Canadians think that food in China is too spicy".)

Ouch. How can I answer his question? 1) Prior to just looking it up (like, 5 minutes ago), I had no knowledge of Taiwan's history or political situation, and 2) is it right for me to give him the information I have available? He's asked an earnest question, and deserves an earnest answer. However... I worry that things I tell him could sow the seeds of further mistrust in him, and is that fair? Granted, China faces this problem now more than ever. Information restriction was quite easy before the Internet, but more importantly (and ironically) before English became a large part of their education. There aren't many Chinese newspapers outside of China, so 10-20 years ago what English media was saying wasn't a big concern because Chinese people (in China, obviously) couldn't read it anyway. Now that's changed, and I think China's heading towards a kind of information-based revolution. John (as in Zhuhai "John and Linda" John) believes that China is aimed right at a more traditional revolution. It's inevitable, he believes, given the hundreds of violent protests that occur every year... in China. (Not that you'd hear about them...)

I have to say that I think he's right.

In the bit of research I did on Taiwan, I came to the conclusion that despite PRC (People's Republic of China) influence and its enormous shadow, it is a somewhat independent country. Nice strong conclusion, eh? They have democratic elections, and their own president. However... technically, the UN recognizes Taiwan as being a part of China, and there are anti-secession laws preventing its independence. Counter-however... Taiwan has its own military. A huge issue is the US' Taiwan Relations Act, and the fact it sells arms to Taiwan. (Who don't they sell to?) So... if Taiwan makes a move to officially become sovereign, China will react militarily... prompting a counter-counter-response from the US. ... but not from the UN, which does not intervene when it comes to border or land disputes. Anyway, they recognize Taiwan as being a state of China.

For a nice propaganda-soaked read, check this out. Scary, but very typical.

For a more middle-of-the-road look, I found this interesting.

In other news, I went to tai ji quan on Thursday. The teacher, for the summer, is doing it under the Sapper Bridge near Parliament Hill. It was great. Lots of discussion about philosophy, and learning about the Chen family style and lineages, as well as application and some resistance push-hands (tuishou).

And what - the - fuck. Hamas TV martyrs Palestinian mickey mouse. Time to add some chlorine to the global gene pool, methinks.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Damn those stereotypes to hell!

Interesting. Makes sense, I guess.

Also a study done to show that eldest children have higher IQs.

I'm gunna be tired tomorrow. I'm here at work until like 2:30 or 3am. Weeeee! Then up again to be in for 9. The internet is my entertainment. Go!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Network Unveiled

Short update.

After much searching, it seems as though I may have found a tai ji quan teacher who practices and teaches Chen style. Not only that, but he teaches the style of Chen that I learned in Tangshan, which is apparently called Laojia. (Never knew that before yesterday.)

It all came about with a search for various tai ji quan teachers in Ottawa. I emailed one man, and my enquiry led to an email to a friend/peer of his, which led to a more detailed request for what styles I knew or wanted to learn, which in turn led to two other teachers that he contacted. There's a secret tai ji quan network in Ottawa, of all places!

I'm waiting to hear back from the teacher who has a class downtown now. It's felt like a bit of an odyssey, but the distant shore of learning, so to speak, is now in sight. Knock on wood...

Now if I could only apply myself as diligently in my job-search, I'd be set.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Yesterday, hung out with Suzi, Jamie and Kieran. We went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which was fairly decent. I think those films suffered the same problems as the Matrix trilogy in that they stretched themselves pretty thin - by the end, it seemed like a demi-gods show-down more than a movie about pirates and having this-worldly fun. It was entertaining, though. Just hope they don't make another one... Quit while you're ahead, folks.

I wandered around afterwards, and since I was in the neighbourhood of Fandom II, I walked over for a browse. Ended up getting Legend of the Five Rings book. I'd heard good things about it, and it seemed interesting. Had supper over at Suzi and Jamie's, and we went for bubble-tea afterwards. I forgot how much I like bubble-tea. Didn't do too much else that evening except watch a movie (the last part of Titan AE).

Today, Jamie and I are going to check out a Shaolin kung fu demo nearby. Ought to be fun, and I'm looking forward to that. I'm not sure if it's outside or indoors, but I guess we'll see. It will be interesting to see after having seen a demonstration at Shao Lin Si itself. No other plans, really. Tomorrow I need to go in and get my ID card done up for the Senate, and possibly game that evening (if I hear back from Tyler and Spencer).

That's about it. Not much really happening. I'm starting to feel really listless. I wake wanting to do something, be going somewhere, only to come to the conclusion that there's not tonnes to do. As it stands right now, I'm sitting in Aaron's living room, and August and I are both on our Macs. How's that for excitement?

Oh, I'm looking into Chinese lessons here, but the price seems a tad steep for what they're offering. $195 (includes one-time $35 registration fee) for 10 lessons, each 1:45 minutes or so long. I guess it's not really that bad, but I'd like to sit in on a lesson or something first, if possible. As for tai ji quan, still having no luck in tracking down someone who teaches Chen style. I might have to bite the bullet and do Yang...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Force Unleashed & 8 Things

I came upon The Force Unleashed, what will be a new Star Wars game a la Jedi Knights series. Damn, it looks amazing! Note the effects on environment, and the AI responses (a stormtrooper grasping for his weapon, clinging to a pipe, etc.). There's no release date for it yet. It will be set a few years after Episode III, the idea being that Vader has a secret apprentice (approved and supported by Lucas, oddly enough). If you get wow'd by technical stuff, check out the trailer for the two engines that they're using, one for environment manipulation and realism (Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) engine) and the other for governing how the AIs move and respond (euphoria engine). Info on them and how they work in The Force Unleashed can be read here.

Something I spotted on George R.R. Martin's blog: 8 things most people don't know/wouldn't suspect about me. I thought it was kind of cool, so let's give it a shot:

1) My favourite movie is The Secret Garden (1993 version with Maggie Smith). I can only defend myself by saying it's one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen.

2) I still maintain a healthy paranoia about something that I'd written (270 or so printed pages) that went missing in the summer of '98... and was followed-up two months later by letter and phone call from a literary agent in Atlanta, Georgia. Those pages are still out there, somewhere. I only worry that I'm going to see that hunk of shit on a shelf somewhere. Thankfully it was shit, so that's not likely.

3) I have to drink a lot of water. I had a dehydration/heat-exhaustion incident in Phase II (army training), and since then I've had to be careful, hydration-wise, when out in hot and humid weather.

4) I want two big, extraordinarily-intelligent mastiffs and I want to name them Odin and Freyja. I have no clue why. I got it into my head one day a few years ago, and for some reason I can't get rid of the idea.

5) I've downloaded a lot of really cheesy songs such as "My Sharona", "Mad World" and "Head Over Heals" because they remind me of KTV events in Tangshan. I'm still searching for a song by Cai Yi Lin (Jolin Tsai) because it's stuck in my head. I even went so far as to send feedback to Apple/iTunes...

6) I love grocery shopping. I hate paying for groceries, however. It always seems exorbitant.

7) I have a hard time finishing anything. Hell, sometimes I have a hard time starting. The idea of succeeding frightens me, for some [very] odd reason.

8) Up until a few years ago, I'd played and beaten every Final Fantasy game released in North America - on Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Gameboy, and the PC. Lost track of the games that have only been released on PlayStation since I don't have one of those. Thanks to a Japanese friend of mine in grade 4, I'd even beaten Final Fantasy Adventure II in Japanese (then beat FFA II in English when it came out a year+ later). Thanks, Fumio!

Those are my 8. What are yours?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Havin' a Wii Bit O' Fun

I now understand how some physiotherapists are using the Nintendo Wii - that console is awesome! James H. had just bought one, and I went over for some BBQ burgers, beer and Wii. We chatted for a while outside on his deck, ate, then went Wii'ing. (image taken from Penny-Arcade comic, all rights are theirs, blah blah blah)

I suppose I should explain a bit. The main controller looks like a very very simple TV remote. No cords, either. You can then attach the nunchukas piece to the bottom of it if you want a controller in each hand. We just used single controllers each. The whole system is based around real-time movement, not just up/down/side but also forward and backward (in the case of playing Wii Pool and Boxing). Jimmy and I played Tennis for a while, laughing our asses off at our goofs, and getting way too into it. Nick jumped in for a bit when we started playing Bowling.

Then... the Idea. Nick: "What if we move the TV and Wii into the kitchen window so we can play from the back deck?" That met with unanimous approval, and it was done. It worked great. We played Golf for about 3 hours or more, then went back to Tennis for a bit, then James and I tried out a few other games, and took a look at Paper Mario. That game was nuts. You could go from 2-D to 3-D, though the storyline junk was more than a tad innane.

By 11:30, we were gettin' hungry (and had gone through about 20 bottles of beer), so we ordered in some food and carried on... until quarter after two in the morning.

In other news, been quite busy socially these past few weeks. Angie was up on Saturday for Suzi and Jamie's turducken feast (which was amazing). Then we went to Vankleek Hill with Adam to check out the May Show on Sunday, which didn't work. By the time we finished visiting with Michael and Tommy, Adam's old neighbours, the stalls and everything on Main Street were being put away. So we trundled down across the railroad tracks to Beau's All Natural Brewing Company grand opening. Saw some old faces: Steve-O (co-owner) and Jamie Kaufman (Ottawa sales rep). Good beer, fun tour, and a good chance to see what high-school folks have been up to. I also bought a 1/2 gallon of beer. Hey, 2 litres of good beer for $15? Giddy-up! Had a great and relaxing few days with Angie.

I came back from VKH on Tuesday, and had my first Black Company D&D game with Spencer and Tyler that afternoon/evening. All went pretty well, I think. "Will they escape from Roses? Will they be able to reconcile their diamentrically opposed views? Will Tyler stop rolling 1s? Find out!" Next game is next Friday. Wednesday was quiet day, and Thursday I got together with Roger, Scott and Kelly. That was fantastic, and makes me wonder why we'd never done it before. It's certainly something we'll have to do more regularly, at any rate. Yesterday I was obviously over at Jimmy's playing Wii and drinking beer, today I'm house-sitting for Suzi & Jamie, and tomorrow Aaron and I are meeting up with Gaston and Pat for a beer and geek-speek (ie, we'll be talking about computer games, reminiscing about DAoC, and arguing about future MMOs).

Next week... I start work. Yay for income! I've been getting a tad restless lately, though I've gotten quite a bit of writing done. Not as much as I'd like, but that's par for the course. I finished reading "The White Rose" by Glen Cook (the third book in the first trilogy), and need to try to find "Shadow Games" at a used bookstore. All the other books (there are 10 total) are in print... except for freakin' "Shadow Games", which is the first novel in the second related trilogy. How stupid is that?

Okay, I've rambled enough.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Geek Moot

(Caution: much geekiness lies within this post.)

And on the first day, God said "Let geeks muster upon the soil of the Royal Oak." And he saw it, and it was Good.

Tonight I met up with two guys - Tyler and Spencer - I had emailed re: a poster they had put up in Fandom II. My gaming itch has not in the slightest been sated by the PbP game, I'm sorry to say. It's been great so far, but is nothing like a real table-top game. The interaction and shootin'-the-shit is half the enjoyment, as are the in-game screw-ups, such as: dying... twice! (Pascal: "What do you mean dead? Like -3?" Me: "Ummm... like -24 'dead'. As in 'crispy and unidentifiably dead'." Pascal: "Ooooohhhhhhh..."), setting loose a one-of-a-kind evil (Todd: "That's a tarrasque isn't it..." John: "Maybe?" Lisa: "We just let loose a TARRASQUE?!"), being turned to stone by a medusa (Me: "I have +18 Fort save... only issue is if I roll a 1-----" John: "Did you just roll a 1 ?!?!" Me: "...... at least now maybe someone can break this cursed [stone] shield off my damn arm." John: "This should be good...") etc. ad nauseum. Not to mention rancid smoked-meat-flavoured watermelon, eh, Pascal and Geoff? ;-)

Tyler and Spencer were great. I've had such amazing luck over the last decade in terms of meeting gamers. Only a few problem people (*cough* halfling couple *cough* - the Kingston crew knows who I'm talkin' 'bouts) have ever emerged. Most have been fantastic and become very good friends: Pascal, Adrian, Steve, Geoff, Fiona, Linda, John, Todd, Lisa, and Sacha.

Tonight, I had to sit there and assume a calm, patient, sagacious DM face: nodding with a barely restrained smile as the enthusiasm swelled over the two hours we talked. It was so hard to curb my own avidity. Hilarious to watch everything die momentarily as the waitress wandered over to see if we wanted anything. "Nope, we're good." "So yeah... okay, I'll work on an ex-commander kind of veteran fighter... Say, how are we doing attributes? Roll or points-based?" lol It made me want to dance around and clap, it was so classic. Just like meeting John, Todd and Don back in 2003 when we met up at Patty Boland's. Chatter chatter chatter... someone approaches... go silent as conspirators... wait... safely resume geeky banter.

What amuses me is that most of this care taken not to expose our geeky roots is silly. Nowadays, a lot of people hear about pen-and-paper gaming and want to know what it's about. 10 years ago gaming and especially D&D came with a huge stigma, thus was something to be hidden and lied about. Now the reaction is typically "Hey yeah! I've heard of that. What is it exactly? Can I watch a game?"

Anyway, it looks like the chips are in play, and we're off to the races. (or something) Spencer and Tyler left tonight with solid ideas for PC concepts, and gave me great ideas for a campaign start. It was quite collaborative, which I want. We talked about gaming styles, really getting into what we wanted and relating funny/sad anecdotes from our early gaming years, positive and negative both. Then we got into specifics, mostly to do with changes in Black Company versus generic D&D 3.5 edition stuff. The end result: what they want from a game is exactly what I want to put into a game, so it's a go.

On a side note, I'm so lucky Angie not only tolerates my geekiness but thinks better of me for it. I try to imagine what things would be like if she was disdainful of it. Well, it'd be an ugly situation, I guess, because as Steve says "I'm a gamer. That's just the way it is. I'll always be a gamer." And to think it all started (for me) with the Heroes' Quest board game 16 years ago.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tai Ji Trek III: The Search for Chen

It looks like most places in Ottawa teach Yang style, or if I'm lucky, Sun style. No one teaches Chen that I've found. That's odd since anyone who's studied Chinese tai ji quan ought to know it, and teach Chen style first since it's considered the fundamental style. I've even sent emails to people in the Canadian Taijiquan Federation. Surprisingly, I received a response, but not one that really helped:

I have practiced Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan but I am not teaching it. I represent officially the Yang Family in Canada and my training in Chen Style was mainly to understand how other families practice Tai Chi Chuan.

I had friends that were teaching Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan in the Ottawa Area, but I have lost contact more than 10 years ago.


(What I don't get is why people westernize the spelling of pinyin; ie, ji quan = chi chuan. Pinyin is meant to be westernized Chinese already. Kind of silly, and makes web searches and such difficult because you have to cover both bases.)

I might have to do as Adam suggested and post something on Craigslist or what-have-you. I also need to find someone to teach me putonghua so I can advance that. Perhaps I could be lucky and find both at the same time, in the same person. Or I might just have to suck it up and do Yang or Sun style. Meh. I really do not want to learn Yang style.

Yesterday I got my EI stuff sorted, though not to my satisfaction. Apparently - even though I have 29 weeks left that I've paid into - I can only collect another 5 weeks. Something about having had to collect those 29 weeks during the 52 weeks since I opened my claim. So... essentially, the money I put in for insurance is being stolen. It's not a tax, it's insurance - it's my money. And now that I need to be insured I can't claim? Fucking ridiculous if you ask me. The thing that really bugs me is that if I had been dishonest and claimed while in China (easily done), I'd have what I was "owed". But as I was honest and stopped claiming after my contract started, I got screwed upon my return to native soil. There's a lesson in there somewhere. And the government wonders why there's fraud...

I did a lot of wandering. I was trying to find the Tai Ji Studio on Bank Street. I thought it was 107, it's actually 195... so I never found it. I'll go in next week on Thursday. It looks alright, to be honest, but I don't want to get side-tracked from Chinese wushu tai ji quan and slip into Western "tai chi". I guess we all have to make sacrifices...

Anyhoo. I saw Adrienne and chatted with her for a bit, and later on hooked up with Adam at the Oak for a pint and some pub foods. Got to hear people shrieking at televisions as the Senators scored against the What's-Its-Place Whoevers. Came back and watched Alien 3 with Aaron and August. The special edition/director's cut makes it a whole new movie, and a lot better than the theatrical release. Wonder if David Fincher is doing something in the near future. I hope so. He's a kick-ass director.

Busy few days coming up, but I'll write more later.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Home Again

Well, I'm back. 11 hours from Beijing to Vancouver, 4.5 more to Ottawa. The flight from Beijing seemed fast, which surprised me. I was expecting it to be torturous. I managed to sleep in small doses. Customs in Vancouver was fast and easy, just as Beijing had been. Oh, the security check people in Beijing tried to confiscate my deoderant. I took it out of the officer's hand and shook my head at him, laughing. He was too surprised to do anything, and I embarrassed him in front of his co-workers. So I got away with it and he acted like he meant for me to have it. An American standing next to me stared at me as if I'd sprouted wings. They don't take my nail clippers, my folded scissors... but they try to take my deoderant? I don't think so. That was the sole issue I had.

Arrived at 23:30 on Friday and rushed through the Ottawa airport. Of course, I arrived at a gate the farthest removed from the arrivals area. However, I moved pretty quickly through it and found Angie, my mom and Suzi there, waiting for me. Obviously it was a very happy return, and that's all I'll say.

Angie and I got together with Jamie, Suzi, the kids and Aaron on Saturday morning, and gave out the few gifts I brought back. It felt fantastic to walk down the streets of Ottawa again, down old familiar routes, and to see them all again. It was surreal. Jamie said it best when he said he was surprised that it had been almost 10 months - now that I was back it seemed much less. Very true. I felt the exact same way. Very hard to describe how it seemed on Saturday, and even how it seemed now to be back. A part of me has this odd fear that if I sleep too deeply, I'll wake up to find myself back in Tangshan. The experience feels sometimes to have been so amazing and out of the norm, especially for me, that I've made it up.

I am having issues adapting back. It's just small things. At times I feel disjointed, or I look around and have lost a point of reference. Continuity is that point of reference. Things are mostly the same, but disconnected by a 9-month space of time. One thing that got me was the silence. On Saturday, as Angie and I were walking to Suzi and Jamie's, I think at most I saw a dozen people at any one time. You'd have to be way out in the sticks to only see a dozen people in China. Everything was/is just so quiet, so calm and settled. People held doors open, said "Oh, sorry!" if they stepped on your feet, smiled, nodded their heads in greeting, waved you to go ahead in traffic. All these things... I wasn't walking past people staring or glaring at me, nudging their friends and pointing at me, hearing people hawk and spit, shouting into cellphones, trying to rip me off because I'm not Asian, etc. All these things were startling - things I'd forgotten or had taken for granted.

I've had a fantastic time being back, suffice it to say. Do I miss China? Not yet. My mind has been completely occupied with joy at being back together with Angie, and seeing my friends and family again, including my cat.

On Saturday afternoon after lunch with Suzi, Jamie, Aaron and the kids, Angie and I did some walking. I bought a new belt (having eviscerated my old one - Angie said I should have kept it as a souvenir it was so busted up) and I exposed her to my geekdom with a jaunt into Fandom II. She tolerated my geekiness wonderfully, and persevered through my perusing with great patience. Following that, I got to see where she'll be living come September and we walked over the Canal using the new pedestrian bridge. Walking along the Canal really gave me a solid "I'm back" feeling, yet at the same time, it didn't feel like the same city I knew. I just looked around and thought "damn, how did I not notice how beautiful this city is?!". I saw things with new eyes, or so it felt. It was so relaxing to just walk along the water - warm sun, cool breeze - and feel completely unhurried. We went to Chapters, and I bought a book, one I'd been pining for since I'd gone to China.

That evening, Angie and I got dressed up and headed to the Market to have a date at the Keg. The place was packed, however, and there was a 60-minute wait. We shared a smile and headed out. We wandered past a few more places, and they had lines, too. However, Patty Boland's was reliable as it's always been. It was not exactly what we were looking for, but what we really wanted was to spend an evening together over a good meal and a glass or two of wine in a place without plastic chairs or florescent lighting. It was a done deal. I'm personally very partial to Patty Boland's and I fully credit Roxanne with having introduced me to the place waaaay back when. It's been a favourite of mine ever since.

Stepping out of Patty Boland's, we ran into Graham M, a friend from my old workplace. Graham and I both just stopped and looked at each other for a good second or two before either of our brains clicked. We chatted for a few minutes, and told me that he had just parted company with Kelly who had gone into Touche. Angie and I went in and I got to surprise the hell out of Kelso, whose birthday it was! Andrew was obviously there, but so was Andrea. They got to meet Angie, and she and Kelly chatted while I talked to Andrew and his friend. While we only planned to stay to say hi, we were there for an hour or so. It was great.

After that, we hit the Highlander to stop in and say hi to a friend of Angie's whose birthday it also was. We had a drink there as well, and talked for a bit. We got back to where we were staying around midnight, and just passed out. Woke up, re-packed, and went for breakfast at the Elgin Street Diner with Adam. We wandered in the Rideau Centre afterwards. (I finally found an English-subtitled copy of "Infernal Affairs" with Leung Chow-Wei - ironically I couldn't find an English subtitled version of it in China. Infernal Affairs 2 and 3? Yes. The original? No. Now I have it. I also ordered two copies of Blues Brothers.) Outside HMV, I ran into yet another former co-worker, one I'd kept running into all over downtown Ottawa for the past three years. I can never remember his name, though. Then we hung out with Adam's roommate and sat out on his back deck for a while, just shooting the breeze and enjoying the weather.

Anyway... it's been incredible. I'm at my parents' place now, just taking it easy, watching The Fugitive on a massive screen, resisting going to sleep. Pele did not take to me right away. She needed some time to remember me, and get used to me. However, after a few hours, she was whoring herself on me like old times, purring like a an old junker (which she is, I guess) and extending and retracting her claws on my chest in contentment. I'm going to have to take her back after I get settled since my dad is not her biggest fan, to say the least. I just worry how she'll be after yet another move.

Well, I guess it's time to watch the rest of this here movie, then get some sleep. It's good to be back.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Last Night

Well, this is it: last night in China. Feels weird, yet... not. I haven't processed it, I don't think, and I don't think I will until about a week from now.

I was thinking of trying to stay up, and then sleep on the plane... but I don't think I can do it. My best bet is to go to sleep and wake up early. Otherwise I could wake up late tomorrow, and that would be ruinous as I need to somewhat re-organize my junk and leave by 11:30 to get to the airport for 12:30 or so, check in, and read the Count of Monte Cristo while I wait. I'm still unsure of my luggage weights, and that has me somewhat concerned, which is another reason for being early. Guess I'll see what happens tomorrow when the stuff is weighed when I go to check it.

I hit the Great Wall today at Mutianyu. I had wanted to go on the Secret Great Wall tour, but no go. Mutianyu ended up being a good spot. I didn't see tonnes of it, having only had 2.5 hours to wander. However, I'm happy that I was able to enjoy both the restored sections, as well as the unrestored areas (which I wasn't supposed to be on). I thoroughly enjoyed the unrestored, completely people-devoid areas. They just had a greater impact on me, for reasons I can't pinpoint. Something about trees and grass having taken over what is supposedly one of the largest human-work projects in history just struck me as meaningful. Seeing the other portions was just... well... it was a wall. It wasn't all that great. I think it's better in Chinese "Chang Cheng" - long wall. Long it most certainly is. Great? Well... yeah, I guess. But it's hard to feel that. It was like seeing the Forbidden City. Yeah, okay, it's cool to see the imperial home and seat of the old empire, but it's just not there anymore. It's empty. That's how the Great Wall felt. Empty, yet full of people huffing and puffing as they struggled up those bastardly steps.

The abandoned portions, however, were far more... hmmmm... emotionally profound? It was easier to get a sense of its former greatness. And I'll be honest: I feel it's only formerly great. While it is still amazing, a big part of why it's great is the grandeur of its creation, which was a horrific undertaking when it began 1800 years ago. Seeing those sections "gone to seed" in a very literal sense gave me a feeling of its time, and gave it a more haunted and lost atmosphere. It was also more peaceful, as if it was resting. The restored sections were... well, restored. Meh. And crawling with people bitching about the stairs and pushing for good picture opp spots. I couldn't care less. I just wanted my own experience of it, which I had, in the company of an equally motivated woman from L.A.

The fact that it had a freakin' tobaggan slide down was... well, like dressing the Guanyin statue in Chengde up as Ronald McDonald. I walked up... and walked down. All this cable-car and slide business is silly. Yeah, I have no doubt it's fun, but it's like dancing on the bones of hundreds of thousands of workers who were little better than slaves. "I can't be assed to work for so little as to even get to the top under my own steam." is what is says to me. People just don't work for things anymore. If they can pay a bit extra and enjoy an easy ride, rock-'n'-roll! I say booo to that. I understand not everyone is in good enough shape, but seeing my entire tour group (7 others) take the cable-car up and tobaggan down... it sort of made me sad. Not sure I can explain it, to be honest.

Maybe I'm just being a prick but it made me feel as I felt on Wudang Shan. I climbed and climbed, slowly approaching the summit, enjoying the scenary and quiet around me. No one else about. What do I see at the summit? Hundreds if not thousands of tourists who took a 10-minute cable-car up so they could throw coins on a roof and snap some pictures. I suppose people want the end-game score and don't care about playing. What the fuck's the point of that?

Anyhoo... overall, it was a remarkable trip, and I didn't have to put up with anyone around me except Lucienne, who was good company. Got some nice pictures, more or less. I despise my camera, however. It's such a junker. It's so horribly light-sensitive that if it wasn't for iPhoto's Enhance feature, many of my shots would be been shite. While pictures aren't important compared to remembering the experience itself, I still would like to be able to share this with my friends and family. It seems as though all my attempts to capture "the moment"s fall short of reality. A camera is supposed to capture what you see. Mine seems to just taunt me.

At 19:30, I met up with Andrew, Lili and Wendy (DoS from Qinhuangdao EF) and we had coffee, then went for supper at a place called Bellegio (I think). The food was fantastic, though I felt bad for poor Lili. Andrew and Wendy talked shop for 3 hours, and I have to admit I did also at times, though I tried to talk to Lili about whatever and joke around with her. It's no fun to be with a group of folks who have the same common pre-occupation (or occupation) if they aren't making the conversation accessible. Aw well.

Went for supper with Ema last night. Well, went for a drink, I guess. I had supper. We hit Hou Hai, and as per a blog post sometime in the past, I took more pictures, but they came out just as shit as the one when I was there with Jon. Anyway, the evening was nice, though the conversation seemed slightly hesistant or at least not very fluid. Such is life.

Tomorrow... I find it hard to think about tomorrow. (woops... TODAY!) May the 4th be with you! (and with me, since I will have a very very long May 4th due to time-zones) I just want to be landing in Ottawa, to feel that anticipation of waiting for the plane to halt and everyone to stand up. I'll be racing up the gate and through the terminal. Just need to get to that point. It's only 35 hours away. Alrighty... see a bunch of you folks back in Canada!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Zai jian Tangshan, nihao Beijing

Well... it's done. I'm officially out of Tangshan. It's a bittersweet sensation. I had something of a panic attack yesterday morning as I stood my luggage up, ready to go. Like butterflies-swarming-my-chest vertigo. As I was saying to Angie, I'm happy to be leaving and at the same time I feel as if I ought to feel bad about going. However, I can't have both. Not until I create my Chinada machine, anyway. Wooops! I've said too much...

I didn't hook up with the girls on Sunday night, as they got back late from Qinhuangdao. We had lunch instead Monday. It was a great time. I gave them silk hand-bags I bought in Suzhou, and they did something really sweet for me: they put into a glass brick the picture of me flexing with all the assistants. It was fantastic! (too bad it weighs more than my head)

As the picture above shows, they let their hair down and had some beer with me. Lots of toasts, with a few sad and pensive awkward silences after some of them. Food was excellent, as per usual at Feng Huang Yuan, though the service was rather shit. There was a wedding downstairs, so we all got to talking about dating and relationships and marriage (a lot of comparing Canada vs China), with lots of funny anecdotes told. At the end, there were no tears, thankfully, but leaving was tough.

I had a chance to give Lily the card for Xiang Guo Yuan, my tai ji quan master. Oh, I guess I didn't say anything about visiting them. I went on... Saturday night. No one was doing tai ji quan outside, but Song laoshi was inside with a few others. I spoke to him, told him it was my last day (well, as per the plan at that time), gave him the baguo necklaces I'd bought on Wudang Shan. They have my email address, and I have theirs. Anyway, I spoke with Song laoshi outside, and asked if he and Xiang laoshi still wanted to learn English. I said that Lily was an excellent teacher, and was Chinese (they had some concerns initially when they had approached me about it re: learning without any first-language being used). So I hope she calls them and gets work with them. I think she'd have fun with that. And it was no exaggeration. She is a great teacher.

Anyway, so everyone went their separate ways back home. Seriously. Everyone took a different cardinal direction. I walked with Betty a ways and saw her off at her bus. It was a bit of a lonely walk home, I have to say. Things just felt so... finished.

Getting back, I finally saw Alistair. We hung out a bit, then went for beers with Jeff (Aussie teacher who has my HF-S, HF-1A and EF 5 classes), Ethan (the new marketing manager - no English), and Jessie and Angie. I spent a chunk of time translating for Jeff and Ethan, which was neat. I always forget how much Chinese I know, or rather how far I can flex the Chinese that I know. 27 beers later, we headed home.

Finished packing yesterday morning, and arrived with no issues in Beijing around 15:00. I'm in at Lili's "office" (again I say WOW). Wireless, coffee, enclosed shower (!!!)... I think I'm set. Alistair is going to come in today, I think, possibly with Norhaine, and we'll hit the Great Wall tomorrow.

Went out for Thai food last night with Lili, and had a few drinks. That was Lili's drink (left)! Zany. Today, the plan is to hit Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven), wander some hutongs near Qian Men Dajie, book the Great Wall tour, and this evening meet up with Ema for supper. If Alistair makes it in, then it'll be the three (or four, with Norhaine) of us. No idea about that, though. Haven't heard back from him as to what his plan is. I'll meet him at 17:00 anyway at the spot we pre-planned.

Okay, I should head off. Time to do a bit of the tourist thing, and sort out some last-minute details and such. So today's a busy-ish day, as tomorrow will be. Aw well... I'd wanted some quiet time, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Will have more pictures to upload tonight, hopefully from Tian Tan as well as from supper/drinks.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Hedonistic Beginning of the End

Approaching the final leg of this China venture/reality hiatus. Five days until I'm back in sunny Ottawa, and excited = me!

Had quite a bit of fun in the last few days, culminating in a hedonism overdose last night.

The girls at EF were happy to see me when I dragged my scrawny arse into the teachers' room on Thursday, and it made me really glad to see them as well. I'm very much going to miss their boundless enthusiasm and child-like brilliance of spirit. They really do shine, those girls. It's a wonder anyone has ever had a bad day at EF Tangshan. They went through my pictures with such calculation and slowness, often going back and making sure not to miss one. They asked questions about almost everything: "Where did you take this one? How did you get there? Who's that?" It was quite cute.

So I hung out with them for a while on Thursday, and Duncan and I had a beer later on. Possibly last time in Yi Liang You Meng, though might go there tonight with Alistair, if I have time.

On Friday I................... slept in! (remember to breathe, folks) I muddled about til later than I'd planned to, but it was all good: chatted with Angie and sorted out all 1,005 pictures from the trip. I have to say the Enhance feature of Apple iPhoto is like a magic button for good pictures. Hazy and quasi-blegh image? ENHANCE! I use it without shame or hesitation. I then went to the "German Restaurant" for my old usual of a salad and breakfast thinger. Last time there. As if they sensed that, they rounded my bill down. Will wonders never cease!

I faithfully delivered to Andrew from Joe the CD containing resources and such that couldn't be sent any other way. I did it Johnny Mneumonic style. (okay, I wish) Saw Lily and talked to her for a bit as she hadn't been in the day before. Spoke with Andrew about a certain something I can't be but cryptic about as it involves a surprise for a certain someone. (No, Pele... not you.) Andrew called his girlfriend, Lili, in Beijing to ask about it, and she just said that if I'm coming in she will go with me. Appreciative was I, and I don't think Lili said "It's no problem!" more times in a row than she did while I was there.

So yeah. Beijing. Best time I've had in Beijing yet, by the way.

I got in around 13:30, and tried to book a room at the Beijing City Center Hostel, the usual one I stay at since it's right across from the train station and very... well... central as it were. No go. No rooms at all. So I used their phone upstairs and rang up Leo Hostel, getting a tad panicked. They had dorm rooms still available, so I made a reservation there. It wasn't the best-case scenario, but it was better than sleeping in one of the pedestrian underpasses on Chang'an Dajie. Called Lili (and woke her up, as it turned out) and arranged to meet her in Sanlitun where she lives.

We went back to her place to drop my stuff off, and headed out. Can't say where, I'm afraid. Which is irritating because I have some great anecdotes. Grrr...

That trip took us about 3 hours, and was a rather Herculean enterprise, it turned out. So many little details. Lili kept laughing, saying "Most men aren't this exact or patient [with things of this nature]." Lili rocked - she was a great advisor and co-conspirator. I had originally planned to go into Beijing, do the business that needed doin' and head back to Tangshan, but Lili convinced me to stay over since we wouldn't have had time to wrangle up our little conspiracy otherwise. Accepting proved a most wise and excellent decision.

After [doing what needed to be done], she had to pick up some stuff from her office, so off we went. Quite a nice building, and area. Corporate apartments, mostly. That's what her office ended up being - an incredibly nice corporate apartment: 12th storey, two large bedrooms, cherrywood flooring, stainless steel kitchen, bathroom that looked like it was ordered from a Hilton brochure, laundry room (with a real washer and dryer!), oil paintings, digital everything (the lights even came on slowly, like something out of Blade Runner), and floor to ceiling windows looking out over the Chaoyang district. (I just realized I forgot to take pictures of it, but that will be amended, for reasons you shall soon hear, O Constant Reader.)

She made tea, I made coffee (with some of her boss' Bailey's tossed in for good measure) and we lounged on leather sofas. We talked for a good three or four hours. I didn't know Lili very well prior to yesterday beyond saying hi when she visited Tangshan; just idle chit-chat. We got on phenomenally, and I don't think that I've ever turned an acquaintance into a good friend so quickly, with the exception of Aaron. We could even commiserate about Texan management!! What are the odds?

She had gotten in touch with a friend of hers that afternoon while we were out, and it was decided we'd make a night out of it. She hadn't had a break in a while, and I more than felt up for it since my hostel and [That Which Shall Not Be Named] was all sorted out.

In the taxi to drop her laptop and work stuff off, Lili said if I wanted to stay in the corporate apartment while I was in Beijing, I was welcome to. Ummm... hells yes! So I will take pictures while I'm kicking back in the lap of someone else's luxury. Cancelled my hostel reservation this morning. Makes me wish I had a suit or something equally flash just to walk around that apartment. Somehow a Transformers t-shirt and jeans seemed out of place there.

Her friend worked at a pub called Frank's. Not quite sure where that ended up being, but I think it was near Suzie Wong's. Nice place, and packed to the gills with expats. Cricket was on, Sri Lanka vs Australia (Angela, you watched that, I assume?). There were a lot of Australians there. "Get the fuck outta here, ya wankah!" was the general outburst every time a Sri Lankan player or coach was interviewed.

Oh, Lili's friend (on the left). I'm not sure I've met anyone like Molly before. I kept trying to think of who she reminded me of, and I came up blank. I was expecting someone fairly composed and shy-ish, just based on Lili's quiet-and-content personality. Not so. She's like an experiment in concentrated Hell Yeah™, wit and sensuality. Kind of like a merger of Molly Millions from "Neuromancer" and Zenda from "Only Forward"... and Sid Vicious. I mean, no matter where she went, heads turned, people tripped, conversations turned to garbled mumbles. Molly looks like a Chinese Angelina Jolie, and she was raring to kick ass and wear grooves into dance-floors. She also embodies the word "in the scene". She knew everyone, everywhere - waitresses, DJs, bartenders, owners, patrons... it was quite the sight to see her move about like a lightning storm of social'ness.

Being with Lili and Molly was slightly uncomfortable at first, to be honest. I've never gotten rank glares of envious hate from guys before. It made me feel really small and out of my element.

Anyway, since we were positioned near the big projector screen, we moved outside... just in time for a blues band to start up. That simply fucking rocked. They played so many classics and paid highly-laudable tribute to the Blues Brothers. They were just awesome. Lili wasn't too familiar with the music, so I told her a bit about it (not that I know enough about Blues to fill a business card using a magic marker), and sold her on finding a DVD of Blues Brothers on Monday. Drank two pints (YES! PINTS!) of Kilkenny, two bottles of Corona, and got a free bottle of Tsingtao from Molly because we got charged on our bill for the cover even though she just walked us in.

Bar Blue was first on Molly's hit-list. We had a drink, and I chatted with Lili while Molly schmoozed like a presidential hopeful on speed and Red Bull. It didn't have enough energy for Molly, so we moved downstairs to China Doll, which I'd never been to. The feel of the place was a mixture of the Korova Milk Bar from "A Clockwork Orange" and some dimly-lit warehouse artiste industrial dance club. Odd and sometimes eye-raising images were being show on projector screens all over the main room, the dance floor was so strobe-tastic that it made you want to have an epileptic fit, the few booths that I saw looked like they'd been copied from the Mos Eisley Cantina (Star Wars), the seats were comfy sofas and low armchairs, the tabletops were (I think...) underlit in crimson and cerulean which, combined with the projectors, gave the place an amazing and "thick" atmosphere. It was a bit much for simple me, but really cool all the same. It made me wish Suzi, Jamie and Aaron had been there. They'd have loved it.

Around 03:30, Lili and I called it quits, being drunk and yawning in the midst of this Eden of lavish excesses. We wandered out, walking the short distance back to Lili's, she armed with ice-tea, me with water. Hydration I desperately needed at that point.

Woke up around 07:30, and couldn't get back to sleep. They'd started drilling in a downstairs apartment, or knocking down a wall, or were letting frenzied hyenas run rampant. One of those, I'm sure. Hung-over was I. I seriously never learn my lesson when it comes to beer. After eggs, pineapple and coffee, I was on my way back to rejoining the homo sapiens sapiens species. I flitted in and out of napping through the morning while Lili worked. (She has a workaholic Texan boss... I know two or three people who read this who can share a sympathetic smirk.)

Morning irritation: On my way out, I ran into a girl in the elevator. Without preamble, she asks where I'm from and says "Your girlfriend is sexy, man." (Turned out this girl - Chinese - lived in Hawaii for 16 years...) She'd seen Lili, who had to show me the elevator because they have two: one runs Mondays and Thursdays, and the other one the other days of the week. I love China!! "Uhhh... no, she's a friend of mine." "No way. She likes you. I can tell. It's girl-to-girl, man. I know this." Oooookay...

That elevator seemed to move damn slow, let me tell you. She persisted in walking with me down the street to the bus stop. Unfortunately, she was going in the same direction "to get some totally sexy short dress for a crazy party tonight" or something to that effect. Oi. Where's Angie to drive off weirdos when I need her? Apparently she was a professional TV hip-hop dancer, and was looking for work in Beijing. I didn't have anything to say to that, to be honest. However, through her I found out which bus would take me to the subway station, so I guess that settled the debt of crazy she'd incurred, not that I wanted to stick around and work it out. Oh, and when she took off, she went to offer me her cheek!! WTF? I looked at her and for a second or two thought 'Does she want me to slug her or something? Does she have a neck twitch?' Yikes. Thankfully that afore-mentioned dress beckoned ("totally, man") and off she went, but not before shouting in front of hordes of people: "Hey, I don't even know your name!" Three points: 1) She was barely up to code with Beijing regulation 273-B-8f (Regulation Concerning Minimal Clothing Requirements), 2) we were on a major street on Sanlitun, 3) enough people speak functional English to know what she said. To say that people stared at her and then me would be an understatement. I can only imagine what their assumptions about her and I must have been... A few guys standing near me eyed me, and unable to suppress coy smiles, turned away. Argh.

I'm happy to report no further incidents. Jesus H... what a zany 24 hours. On a lighter note, on the bus back to Tangshan, a kid in front of me kept staring at me with what I thought was a possibly-hostile or testing gaze. At first, I thought he was just being an insolent little bastard, but once the bus started moving, he peeked around the side of his chair (window seat, on the window side) and slid a candy along the window edge. "Gei ni," he whispered. ("Give you") Made me smile. He kept slipping candies down the window edge to me. Another conspirator. When he got off the bus, he just watched me. I said "zai jian!" and he smiled and waved. Just a funny incident, I thought.

Tonight, it's supper for the girls, then off to tai ji quan. Not going to do it (I don't think), but I want to give Xiang laoshi and Song laoshi the necklaces I bought for them on Wudang Shan and apologize for having been a lazy student. I may see if Lily can come with me to ensure nothing is lost in translation and that things are cool. I'm sure he'll be fine about it all - he's not exactly judgemental, is Xiang laoshi. I just want to make sure he knows how much I appreciate all his time, and Song laoshi's.

That's the end of the insanity for now. We'll see what Monday - Friday brings... I ought to have internet access at the corporate apartment (I love saying that), so I'll be about. Last things to see are: Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall. Oh, and a few hutong areas... before they're all destroyed to make room for ugly lodgings for Olympic sportspeople. So fucking sad what they're doing, and not just to the buildings. Those people have lived and worked in those areas for generations.

Enough ranting. I leave you with the picture on the left of the Dr. Seuss house (as I call it) near where I live here in Tangshan.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hui lai le Tangshan!

Back in Tangshan. And I never thought I'd be happy about that, to be honest.

Must shower. Sleep. Laundry. Go into work. Beer. See how people are doing. Beer. Organize supper for my former assistants. Sleep. Etc.

I'm tired, but elated. Glad to be back, and to have had that whole traveling experience. Now to just relax for a wee bit. Well, maybe. Still have to separate all the stuff I've bought so I don't give the wrong things to the wrong people, pack, and get the Beijing stuff rolling.

Okay, that's that. It was a great trip: nothing stolen though I lost my blind-man sunglasses (stupid train), saw monks break things with their foreheads, witnessed enough spitting to last a lifetime with surplus, smelled almost every smell there is to be smelt, contracted no diseases or anything despite a few close calls with harpies and some suspect food (ummm... those two things being unrelated), saw mountain-top sunrises, endangered species, 1800-year-old clay figures in trenches, met lots of strange and cool people, was involved in a police car chase, body-checked (and was body-checked by) old women, and covered (I think) over 8,000 km and saw 13 provinces. It's all good. More pictures coming soon now that I'm back at my computer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"I'm Tired and I Want to Go to Bed"


(That's a song, right? Or a sing-along thingy?)

Anyway. I'm tired. I have a headache, I've seen my last real traveling sight, and it was a doozy: Shaolin Si. Go go crazy breaking-steel-bars-with-forehead monks. I even saw one ~17-year-old monk throw a sewing needle through half an inch of glass and break a balloon on the other side... without shattering the entire sheet of glass. It just poked a hole through it, he hurled it with such focus. There were three other deep chips that marked his previous attempts. Well, warm-ups. Damn impressive.

Aaron would have been jealous. I saw Frog Gong Fu!! That's right... instead of dragon style, or snake style, or crane style... frog style! Crazy flippy monk. Also saw monkey and... hmmm... I think tiger style. Monkey style looked radically unpredictable. They did some "internal" martial arts (which is what they were doing prior to steel breaking and needle-breaking-glass - focusing qi using very tai ji quan-esque movements and such) and lots of "external" Shaolin quan styles. Very cool.

A lot of the buildings and areas were nice, also, and leaving around 16:30, we saw a bunch of students training, so I took some pictures. They go through a lot those kids.

So this is it, the end of the line. 8 days to go!!! I'm back in Tangshan tomorrow afternoon from Tianjin. I can't wait. I'm going to sleep for 16 hours or something. As long as I possibly can. Then I'm going to get some of my old haunt's take-out food, and watch a DVD. And use my own computer to organize all these pictures. And sleep. Did I say that? Well I'm going to sleep twice. In a row.

... but I have to pack. I hate packing. I'm such a procrastinator. Though this time I am definitely motivated. I also need to go into Beijing to get a few final projects under way. I may put the money out for a room at a hostel just so I can take in one suitcase first, then bring the second and third when I leave Tangshan on Sunday. Carrying the whole mass is a serious pain-in-the-ass and then some. And I feel like a woman having packed and brought as much as I have. Lesson learned.

Anyway, I've had a great trip, but it's time to be heading home. I'm travel'd out, and just plain worn out - body and mind. I'm so very excited to be seeing many of you soon. 8 DAYS!! Okay, I'm off. Bus station ho!

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Aesthetic of Ugly

Okay, I'm officially "beauty'd out". No more.

This may seem like an odd thing to say, but seriously... I'm sick of the nice China, the tourist China, the mainline China. Bring on the grit.

I saw 4 gardens the other day and by the time I got to the nicest, the Humble Administrator's Garden (HAG), I was de-sensitized to it. The only enjoyment I got from it was taking pictures I thought my mom would like. (Suzhou is garden city, by the way... there are like 10 of them here, and tonnes of waterways.)

To this purpose, I've begun to more actively seek out the aesthetic of ugly, as I'm calling it.

Now I'm starting to wander the back alleys and residential lanes, looking at the real China. It's far more interesting, and strangely the people don't stare or what-have-you. They just go about their lives as I go about mine, not really caring that I'm there. The real China seems to exist in between the busy streets and blazing lights, in these lanes and quiet alleys. Ragged laundry hangs above the broken pavement and gravel; children play in the rubble that used to be a part of their home or that of their neighbours; old men sit on small stools by doorways quietly chatting, bent and heavily wrinkled with age; tiny old women shuffle along with the aid of a cane or with hands behind their stooped backs, blinking and squinting as they very slowly meander along; whip-thin workers share smokes, sitting on brick and beam rubble, broken walls, or squatting in the streets in semi-circles; women yell out to people (I assume family members) while they cook in dark rooms or do laundry by hand, rubbing clothes against the stone stairs leading down to small canals or ponds. It just feels authentic.

I'm sick of the glitz-and-glamour China that's steamrolling (or trying to) into modernity. China is really cheating itself, I think, and like a maddened leper is losing parts of itself as it bull-rushes heedlessly forward.

Anyhoo... I indulged in a bit of the old-school China today, in Tongli. It's not exactly ugly, but it has that entropic beauty going for it. It's not "look at how well maintained we can keep things". It just is.

I got there around 13:00 or so, and ended up going the wrong way from the bus station. As it was, I went the right way if one considers the importance of the juxtaposition in seeing what they're doing to Tongli and not just heading into the old district. God I was scared. I mean, here I was in a town that is widely known as being an old, historical water town... and all that I saw initially was suburb development and matching mass-constructed plazas and shopping areas. It was something that many people would have seen and been impressed by, but it scared the shit out of me. I almost turned back to return to Suzhou I was so stunned, my expectations so horribly dashed by the facade of modern shit they were throwing up.

(As it turns out, had I gone right out of the bus station instead of left... in about 20 steps I'd have seen the gate for the old district and been spared the horror.)

However, I decided to carry on and just explore. I figured I was out of Suzhou, don't worry, don't sweat it, just look around. Within 20 minutes of following a side street built exactly like all the others, I noticed something odd. Where there was brand new white paint on three-storey buildings, suddenly across a canal I was seeing ramshackle low houses... mossy, cracked stone and dirty whitewash and underlying brick where it had worn away. Huzzah! Decrepitude!

I moved very quickly to get over there. Crossing the main bridge over, I was surrounded by foreigners, who, from the next three hours' experience, didn't stray too far from that bridge as I never saw them around afterwards. I sped past them, ignored the pedicab drivers (and actually elbowed one who followed me, shoving a map in my face and protesting that he could show me it all) and moved into the actual area I'd been wanting to see.

It was beautifully wretched. The whole placed seemed to be slowly sinking back to Nature - by way of water, encroaching vegetation and the slow mastication of implacable Time. GLEE!

I wandered and wandered. A guard even waved me away from an area saying it was ugly. I asked "Can I still walk down there?" He shrugged and replied that I could. It wasn't the ugliness that turned me back, but that the path disintegrated and any chance of moving on was blocked 50 meters in.

Walking around the main area was nice, and as I said... most tourists stuck to the canal walkways. I criss-crossed the entire place, seeing all that I could of the actual house laneways and people living there. Tongli and Suzhou actually have a kind of Mediterranean look about them (at least I think so).

(Oh and though I didn't pay for a ticket to go in, there's a Museum of Sexual History ("Antiques" was the word they used...) in Tongli. I thought that odd. Should have paid the 20 kuai, though I got some weird looks from the two ladies who were selling tickets. I must have had one of my crooked smiles goin' on or something.)

It was just so nice. It felt like being 500 km away from Suzhou as opposed to simply 30 km. Same architecture and style, but it just had a completely unsullied vibe. Well... away from the suburb development area, anyway. (makes me shudder to think of that.)

No real anecdotes from the day. Only one nutter calligrapher. Man, he was crazy. He reminded me of one of the inventors in the first or second chapter of Ninjai. (Aaron knows what I'm talkin' 'bout.) He kept going on about how I shouldn't be going to Suzhou, regardless of having a room booked there. "Wu Jiang! Ni yinggai qu Wu Jiang!" blah blah. 1 kuai to get there, blah blah. Very short, save distance, etc. Guy was totally eccentric that people were stopping to watch him race around chatting to me while gesticulating wildly.

Anyway, ended up finally getting something for my dad, and grabbed something for Angie. It was a great tour, and a very pleasant place to lurk around in. Now Tongli felt like a Chinese Venice: tonnes of waterways and canals, and most only 7 or 8 meters across. Many many bridges - large, small, new, old. Tonnes of green, and plenty of character. Very character-infused, actually.

It was a very satisfying day. Tomorrow, it's off to Tiger Hill, and maybe one more garden if I can stand it. If not, I will re-roam some of the side streets I found today and yesterday. Just need to wrap the night up with a little surprise...